SRINAGAR: While life in Kashmir Valley has come to a standstill, Amir, a daily-wage labourer, finds a way to work during the nights for the livelihood of his family.
Amir, a resident of Khanyar, is barely 18-years-old, but his tall and muscular looks make him appear more than his age.
He smokes bidi and speaks in a husky voice: “You become a horse if you work like one.”
Amir comes from a poor family. Four years ago, his father divorced his mother to marry another woman. And he became the patriarch of the family comprising of his ailing mother and two younger siblings.
“If I don’t work, my family will die. My mother needs medicines, my siblings need food,” he said.
Prior to the uprising sparked by the killing of militant commander Burhan Muzaffar Wani on July 8, he worked as a construction labourer, earning about Rs 4, 000 a month.
He never went to school, because his father thought education was a curse for the poor.
“Poor people will always be poor; education won’t change anything in their lives,” he recollected the words of his father.
Amir, however, wanted his younger siblings to study and “become something”.
“I will do anything to get them good education. They have already made up their mind. My sister, Zoha, wants to become a teacher and my brother, Adil, wants to become an engineer,” he said. “Zoha is in class 8 and Adil in class 6. I couldn’t see them hungry. It breaks my heart.”
For the initial few days of the uprising, he waited for the normalcy to return. But with more civilians getting killed each day, it soon appeared impossible to him.
Amir spent his savings on buying food for the family and medicines for his asthmatic mother. Soon, he had no money left to feed the family.
“We didn’t have anything to eat for many days,” he said.
Just when he was starting to lose hope, a man known to Amir came looking for him one night. He told Amir to go to Parimpora Fruit Mandi if he wanted to make some money.
The Mandi receives the fruits supplied from outside the state, and is also the station where from the fruits grown in Kashmir are dispatched to various Indian states.
“He showed me the way, as if the God had listened to the prayers of my mother,” he said.
Amir informed his mother, but she didn’t want him to go.
“She would accept starvation instead of letting me risk my life. But I didn’t have a choice,” Amir said.
On the following day, Amir left for the Mandi, covering the distance of around 20 kilometers on foot in a few hours.
“I could not believe my eyes when I saw a number of trucks and workers there. My heart started beating loudly. I ran towards a man supervising the labourers and asked him for work. He nodded, and I didn’t even ask about my wages,” he said.
On the first night, Amir worked from 11 pm to 5 am, earning Rs 350 and some free foods and groceries.
“My back was aching. I thought I will die,” he said. “When I returned home, my family could not believe I made it alive and with food.”
Since then, Amir has been going to the Mandi on every second night for work. And he intends to do it till the situation normalises in the Valley, for he prefers labouring over accepting alms from someone.
“I don’t want anybody to call me or my family beggars. I can work in any condition for the sake of my family. This struggle for my family’s livelihood is my jihad,” he said.
Every night he goes out to work, his family fears for his life. But they pray for the safe return of their young patriarch, knowing that he would do anything to feed them.